08 Jun 2017

The dangers of mission creep in grading

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It starts innocently enough. You are colour grading with a client and the client requests that you drop in a replacement shot, or remove an object from the frame. You have the tools to do these things, so why not? By Mark Sterne.

As you already know if you have been in this situation, this is a slippery slope upon which your grading session may turn into a simultaneous edit, grade and VFX session, with an open door to a stream of additional last minute requests.

How did we get here? Our tools have become more and more powerful, began to include modules to take care of small editorial and VFX functions. We were able to solve little problems quickly, clients loved it and they began expecting us to solve more and more problems. We requested more features in our software, which our vendors provided. The arms race between vendors escalated until NLEs contained colour-grading modules and colour grading software included an NLE. Everyone brought a VFX package to the table and now anything is a fair ask in the mind of the client.

Of course, we want to be as powerful and omniscient as our clients believe us to be. We train ourselves to learn the new tools, to learn new disciplines that were once the realm of other specialists. We are pleased when we can give our clients what they want. But what happens when we bite off more than we can chew?

You Were Expecting a Solution?

Obviously, the best insurance against being caught out in a mission creep situation is the experience to see when you are about to walk into an ambush. Unfortunately, “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it” (Steve Wright).

Even so, it’s possible to learn to recognise detours that can turn into potential time-sinks. How you handle session-derailing threats should be part of your bedside manner as a colourist and your knowledge of your client, but in general, you want to, as gently as possible, communicate to your client that they are expanding the scope of the session, that it could run into extra time required and in extreme cases, that this is not the best place or time to try to change the colour of the white shirt on the pale man in the white-painted room with very flat, even lighting.

Often, in less extreme cases, it’s sufficient to defer these unexpected non-colour fixes to after the basic grade has been approved, which helps make it clear how much time remains to take care of the issues. If the client uses all or most of the booked time working on colour, it becomes clear to them (or should) that there isn’t enough time left for other fixes, and they need to either book more time or handle it in some other manner (maybe they have a VFX guy back at the office who can paint out that logo for them).

You may also find you have downtime during the session while waiting for notes, for example, and you can work on these sorts of issues then. You may even have the luxury of the client using the time to leave the room, make phone calls, chat with someone across the hall or otherwise absent themselves, leaving you alone to sneak peek at various manuals, forums, and/or keyboard shortcuts while you figure out how best to deal with the issues.

As tools continue to mature and become both broader and deeper in capabilities, it will become even more important to manage “mission creep” during your grading sessions. What are some of your strategies for keeping your sessions on track? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.


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